Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Help. My best friend has just been told that she has breast cancer. She hasn’t
told anyone else yet, including her family. She comes over to cry and tell me how
scared and confused she is. She seems paralyzed by the news, which makes
sense to me, but I know she needs to make some decisions, and soon. I want to
help her, but I don’t know where to begin. In addition to her husband, she has two
daughters (7 and 10) and his mother living with her. Everyone depends on her
emotionally to calm their troubled waters and they have no idea how much she
holds the family together. Her husband is an okay guy but he is throroughly
unequipped to do what she needs now. I’m scared too. Where do I start?
There’s nothing flippant to say about dying. It’s on everybody’s agenda, even if
we try to ignore it most of the time. You could be hit by a truck before you see
your friend again, or you could both live to be 100. Fortunately or not, we’re not in
charge of that aspect of being human.
Be glad she thinks you’re a safety zone. Don’t show her how scared you are right
now because she needs you to be the strong one for both of you. (You’ll have
time to scream later.) Give her space to talk, and to cry. Be her buddy, her
secretary, her right hand, and her ally. Encourage her to talk to her family asap.
Offer to be there when she does.
Then meet privately with her husband and talk about how you can help support
him. Encourage him to get some of his own friends involved inbeing his support
network, and to work with him on developing a network to help with family and
household issues and chores.
Help her sort through the incredible array of conflicting information about choices
that she will confront. Find her a cancer support group. Consider joining with her.
Breast cancer is not a death sentence, though fear can make it seem that way.
Help your friend organize her household so that everyone pitches in. Say “I love
you” often with hugs. The rest is details.